While the rain does fall often in Seattle, it brings with it the lush beauty and life that the city thrives on to make it such a special place.

Amongst that beauty and life is a throng of diverse and unique things to do. From experiencing the historical music scene that brought legends like Nirvana to the forefront of the industry to dining at fresh seafood joints with a beautiful mountain backdrop, here are some of my favorite things to do in the Emerald City.

Get local insight on destinations all over the world with our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox.

1. Spend a day in Discovery Park

To get your nature fix without actually leaving the city, Discovery Park is the place to go with 534 acres of natural area to explore.

Go for a hike on the 12 miles of trails among the evergreen trees, relax or search for seashells on the sandy beach or visit the West Point Lighthouse, which has been in operation since 1881. The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center tells the history of the Indigenous Duwamish who once lived on the land.

Red neon sign for the Pike Place farmers market
You'll find quirky shops and tasty world foods at Pike Place Market © Mark B. Bauschke / Shutterstock

2. Shop and eat at Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market has a special place in the heart of Seattle. With a maze of shops and secret foodie spots, this famous market is a tourist destination that’s worth a visit. There’s a wall that you can leave your mark with a chewed-up piece of gum – is it fascinating or unsanitary? You decide.

Watch seafood vendors fling fish from one part of the store to another. Most come for the spectacle, but the ultra-fresh filets or shellfish make for an unforgettable home-cooked meal.

Stroll around the many quirky shops like Eighth Generation, an Indigenous-owned home goods and art shop, Lamplight Books, a used book store with everything from modern literature to vintage favorites, or peep massive footwear at the Giant Shoe Museum. But who are we kidding? You came here to eat.

Planning tip: Go hungry. Find tasty Russian dumplings at Piroshky Piroshky, swig some Rachel’s Ginger Beer, indulge in the best mac 'n' cheese you’ve ever tasted at Beecher's Handmade Cheese or grab a sweet Earl Grey cookie at Three Girls Bakery.

3. Rock out at the Museum of Pop Culture

Not only is the Museum of Pop Culture a unique architectural wonder to admire, but the exhibitions will take you on a journey through the history of the music industry, with a special soft spot for Seattle legends Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix.

And beyond music, there are year-round showcases and events celebrating all things pop culture and entertainment. Check out Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter’s collection from films like Black Panther (2018), Malcolm X (1992) and Do the Right Thing (1989).

Planning tip: If you want to give your secret desire to be a rock star a try, spend some time in the Sound Lab, where you can get in a jam studio and record your own songs.

Two friends pose for a selfie on the back of a ferry in Seattle
Taking a ferry ride out on Puget Sound is an essential Seattle experience © Tegra Stone Nuess / Getty Images

4. Ride the Puget Sound ferries

For a beautiful view of Seattle and a worthwhile day trip, take one of the many ferries in the area to another Pacific Northwest location. Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, Vashon Island, or one of the San Juans provide that small-town getaway feeling without going too far.

Local tip: When you’re on the ferry, head up to the passenger deck for a full panoramic view of the Seattle skyline from one side and the beautiful Cascade Mountains on the other.

5. Have a cup of coffee (obviously) 

Everyone knows Starbucks began in Seattle, but it's not the only coffee shop worth trying. With multiple cafes on every block, Seattle is considered the coffee capital of the US for a reason. 

You can’t go wrong with sampling espresso from practically anywhere in the city. Diva Espresso has often been left off those “best coffee shops in Seattle” lists, and it’s a shame – the coffee is outstanding. It has seven locations spread throughout the city and serves some of the best iced brews. Grab a pinwheel pastry, and your perfect order is complete. 

Support Black-owned Black Coffee Northwest in Ballard, which gives back to the community through youth development programs.

Planning tip: If you must venture to a Starbucks, make it the Reserve Roastery in Capitol Hill. You can try menu items like pizza and tiramisu and special brews like espresso martinis not found in a normal store.

A man in drag performs for a crowd at a drag show during a Seattle PrideFest event in Capitol Hill, Seattle
Capitol Hill is Seattle's LGBTIQ+ neighborhood © Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

6. Watch a drag show in Capitol Hill

Catching a drag show, eating brunch at an excellent restaurant or viewing some eclectic street art are just snippets of what the Capitol Hill area has to offer. 

This LGBTIQ+ friendly neighborhood has rainbow crosswalks, lots of queer-owned nightlife and a park to relax in an ultimately special pocket of the city. Watch some of your favorite RuPaul’s Drag Race performers and local Seattle queens lip sync up a storm at Queer/Bar or Julia’s on Broadway

One of the best restaurants in the neighborhood is Oddfellows Café + Bar, an all-day and all-night spot where you feast on everything from deviled eggs (with dill) to pesto linguine. And always leave room for the strawberry shortcake with Chantilly cream. Right next door, you can find Molly Moon's, an ice cream parlor with local flavors like honey lavender.

7. Take a ride up the Space Needle

The city icon, which is as synonymous with Seattle as the letters S-E-A-T-T-L-E, was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and in 2018 got a face-lift to bring it into a new era.

Although it's no longer Seattle's tallest structure, one million annual visitors still squeeze into the Space Needle’s slick, speedy elevators to enjoy views that are best described as awesome. Granted, tickets are expensive, and you'll be elbow-to-elbow with tourists, but stop complaining and get in line: this is an essential Seattle pilgrimage.

Local tip: Get up early to have the Needle all to yourself. 

A person lies on grass looking out over a lake with boats on it. The city skyline is on the other side of the lake
Want to go boating, SUP-ing or just chill by the water? Lake Union is the place for you © JMWScout / Getty Images

8. Have some fun at Lake Union

Looking to get out on the water without actually getting wet? Lake Union is the central spot in Seattle to enjoy all things aquatic. Formed by glacial erosion over 12,000 years ago, Lake Union offers kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, seaplane journeys and even hot tub boat rentals. 

And if being on the water isn’t your specialty, you can enjoy the lake from the land at Gas Works Park, which has a lovely view of the Space Needle, especially at night. 

If you’re up to the challenge, you can walk or run the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop, which takes you six miles around the perimeter, with plenty of houseboats to admire.

9. Enjoy the city's public art 

Seattle likes to display its art out in the open with no holds barred. Sculptures and statues decorate parks, streets and squares, from the weird stone troll underneath a bridge, to the iconic Jimi Hendrix statue, to the existential Waiting for the Interurban.

The city even has its own dedicated repository for 3D work – the city's sculpture park is an outpost of the Seattle Art Museum that spreads its works across a beautifully landscaped outdoor space overlooking glassy Elliott Bay.

10. Bike through Coleman Park 

Head south along Lake Washington Blvd E through the very upscale Madrona Park neighborhood and you’ll end up at Colman Park. The entire lakefront stretch between here and Seward Park is parkland. This is an especially good area for cycling. On the weekends the boulevard is closed to cars.

11. Dine in Belltown

If you’re unsure where to eat and don’t have anything specific in mind, Belltown is where to go. With over 100 restaurant options covering every cuisine you can imagine, you won’t have a problem finding something to sate your appetite. 

For hearty Italian pizza, head to Rocco's for its Classic Sausage. If you need a sushi fix, try Shiro's. Biscuit Bitch should be your brunch stop if you need a serving of Southern-inspired breakfast foods. And for some Caribbean eats, Jerk Shack is a must (try the jerk chicken plate). Drink some ales in the warehouse-style tasting room at Cloudburst Brewing.

The macarons at Lady Yum are so pretty it might be hard picking between eating them or snapping a few photos. A few flavors include classic vanilla bean, espresso fudge, salted caramel, honey lavender, and of course, chocolate.

12. See a performance at LANGSTON 

This Byzantium Revival building began life in 1915 as a synagogue for a congregation of Orthodox Jews. By 1969 the demographics of the neighborhood changed and the building was reintroduced as the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, named after the famed Black American poet and social activist. 

In 2016, the nonprofit LANGSTON organization took over programming events in the space to highlight Black art and culture in Seattle. Visitors can catch musical performances, plays, poetry events and film festivals.  

The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle at sun set
The Hiram M Chittenden Locks provide a perfect setting to relax and watch ships © Moelyn Photos/Getty Images

13.  Watch ships and sealife at the Hiram M Chittenden Locks

Seattle shimmers like an Impressionist painting on sunny days at the Hiram M Chittenden Locks. Here, the fresh waters of Lake Washington and Lake Union drop 22ft into saltwater Puget Sound. You can stand inches away and watch the boats rise or sink (depending on direction). Construction of the canal and locks began in 1911; today 100,000 boats pass through them annually. 

Located on the southern side of the locks, a fish ladder was built in 1976 to allow salmon to fight their way to spawning grounds in the Cascade headwaters of the Sammamish River, which feeds Lake Washington. Keep an eye out for the migrating salmon during spawning season (mid-June to September).

Nets keep them from over-leaping and stranding themselves on the pavement. Meanwhile, sea lions chase the fish as they attempt to negotiate the ladder. Displays near the fish-ladder windows help you identify the various species.

At the northern entrance to the lock area is the Carl English Jr Botanical Gardens, a charming arboretum and specimen garden. Trails wind through beds filled with flowers and mature trees, each labeled. Flanking the gardens is a visitor center containing a small museum documenting the history of the locks.

14. Cheers to the beer culture in Ballard

A one-time fishing village founded by Nordic immigrants, the Ballard neighborhood has been reincarnated as Seattle’s beer capital with enough bars in its own right to satisfy a city. Boldly experimental, Ballard's small breweries concoct big flavors that are served in a cornucopia of drinking establishments.

There are nano-breweries, brewpubs, old-school biker hangouts (try Backfire Moto), tasting rooms, whiskey bars (try The Ballard Cut), sports bars, dives peddling rock and bars with book corners. Check out Bad Jimmy's Brewery and Obec Brewing. Once you’re done with the booze, you can immerse yourself in Ballard's unique Nordic Museum and a necklace of waterside parks.

15. Marvel at the genius of the Chihuly Garden & Glass

Opened in 2012 and reinforcing Seattle’s position as a leading city of the arts, this exquisite exposition of the life and work of dynamic local sculptor Dale Chihuly is possibly the finest collection of curated glass art you'll ever see.

It shows off Chihuly's creative designs in a suite of interconnected dark and light rooms before depositing you in an airy glass atrium and – finally – a landscaped garden in the shadow of the Space Needle. Glassblowing demonstrations are a highlight.

This article was first published May 2021 and updated June 2023

Explore related stories

Seattle, Washington, USA - October 2018: Architectural views of the Seattle Public Library.; Shutterstock ID 1901529775; your: Ann Douglas Lott; gl: 65050; netsuite: Editorial; full: Free things to do in Washington state


10 free things to do in Washington state

Apr 4, 2024 • 7 min read